Flash Your Country Gang Sign

 

My parents live just south of a relatively small town in Missouri called Columbia, far enough south that there are road signs announcing where city maintenance stops, so if you were hoping to get home after a big snow storm, good luck with that.

Something you’ll notice the further you get away from the main drag of a city is that people start to look out for each other a little bit more.

When a driveway needs the snow cleared away, the guy in the neighborhood with a plow on his truck goes from house to house, making sure the worst of it is gone so you can try to make it into town for toilet paper.

There’s also what I affectionately call the ‘country gang sign,’ which is a little wave from your car – sometimes with the whole hand, but usually just with a few fingers lifted from the steering wheel – given to anyone who drives by after you’re a certain distance outside city limits.

It doesn’t matter if you know the person or if they have ever seen you or your car before…it just kind of happens.

Car –> Wave –> Civility.

It’s kind of nice!

When you get this friendly little wave, it says ‘Hey there! How’s your day? I hope it’s been great, and if you have any trouble, let me know because I’ve got your back.’ That’s good to hear, even if only implicitly.

The Internet doesn’t have literal geography, but it can work the same way, especially if you write a blog with a particular niche or on the periphery of the mainstream. Outside of the CNN.com’s of the world, we’re sorted by categories and relationships and reading lists and search terms.

You’ll find quite often that folks in a particular niche will give each other that country gang sign by commenting on each others’ posts, retweeting/otherwise promoting each others’ work and participating in different business ventures that might spring up. The wave says ‘I get it. I get YOU. Let’s help each other out.’

And it’s kind of nice.

Now, there’s a reason this little wave doesn’t pop up all over cities: if you’re passing by a large number of people every day and trying to wave to them all, you’ll never get anything done. You can’t promise camaraderie and support for EVERYONE. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

So instead we avoid eye contact and try our best not to notice what other people are up to. Not my problem. I don’t even want to know.

I would argue, however, that having a dozen or so relationships of this sort could be sustainable and incredibly valuable, especially with people outside of your geographic region, blogging niche or other categorization. Actually, the further the other people in your ‘gang’ are from your situation, the better.

Imagine arriving in an unfamiliar city, not speaking the language, not knowing anything about the currency or food or culture…you’re totally neck-deep in confusion.

Now imagine that same situation, but with a kindly stranger who approaches you, teaches you a few simple phrases, shows you how the money works and wishes you luck before going back to their day.

How amazingly comforting! Now you’re a million times more confident and ready to take on the world!

YOU could be that helpful person, and in some cases all it takes as little as a wave across the ether to someone who is in unfamiliar territory.

You don’t have to get matching tattoos or anything like that. You don’t even need to know their name. Just a gesture that says ‘Welcome! I’m here if you need me.’

It doesn’t take much to give value to someone who is starting from nothing.

15 comments

  1. One of the hardest elements we all have to face is selfishness, It’s not because we are behind screens that we can’t help each other. Be Ghetto have a Gang sign – “KARMA” :)

  2. I know the feeling all too well. My grandparents live in one of those small towns. Non-maintained roads, a sense of hospitality amongst the residents, etc.

    It seems that example of camaraderie only exists in small towns, and the south. It is one of the main reasons that I am doing what I can to move out of suburbia and Southern California.

    Camaraderie and hospitality breeds more of the same. Its amazing it only exists in certain, small areas.

  3. as a longtime lurker, i just had to say keep up what your’e doing. consider this my internet gang sign. just throwin my hands up to say ive got your back just the same. you’ve got some piles of good karma comin your way.
    thanks again.

    -david k.

  4. I find that even within cities your particular neighborhood develops a bit of a sign. I lived in some shitty areas of Philadelphia for a while and found it comforting and helpful to give those head nods and slight acknowledgements to people in a new area. You essentially say “Yea, this isn’t my area but I mean well. What’s up?”
    People like being acknowledged. They say one of the best ways to avoid being mugged is to stop and look directly into the eyes of the person following you. Make them recognize your humanity.
    I guess that’s what all of this is about, sharing in the recognition of mutual humanity.

  5. The country gang sign. I’d forgotten about that. I left Arkansas (Missouri’s neighbor) a year and a half ago and wow, the little wave you make to everyone. It had totally slipped my mind. You brought a smile to my face thinking about it!

  6. Ever heard of couchsurfing? It does exsctly what you describe. You go to a city on the other sife of the world and have an instant support community. Its liks a global gang of likeminded people. I love it!

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